This week, we saw the true face of the Iranian regime at home and abroad.
For forty years, Western policymakers have been lying to themselves about the nature of the Iranian regime and basing their Iran policies on the lies they tell themselves. The main lie has been that there is an ongoing, existential struggle for power and control within the ranks of the regime’s leadership.
On the one hand, the fantasy goes, you have the “hardliners.” They are the ones behind all the terrorism. They are the ones working to develop nuclear weapons and the warheads to deliver them. They are the ones who call out “Death to America, Death to Israel.”
Facing them are the “moderates.” If the moderates seize the reins, the Iranians will eschew terror. They will walk away from their nuclear program. And the aspiration for an Islamic global empire will become no more than a children’s fairytale.
On Monday, Reuters published a report about how the regime brutally repressed the countrywide protests last month that put paid this delusional notion. Based on accounts from four Iranian regime sources, Reuters reported that on November 17, the second day of the protests, when the demonstrations spread to Tehran, the demonstrators called openly for the regime to be overthrown and for the late Shah’s son Reza Pahlavi to return to Iran and lead a post-Khomeinist republic, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held a meeting to discuss how to handle the demonstrations. It was attended by President Hassan Rouhani, several members of his cabinet and senior security officials.
After seeing pictures of protesters burning his photo and destroying a statue of the republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, Khamenei reportedly yelled, “The Islamic republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order.”
Khamenei also said that “he would hold the assembled officials responsible for the consequences of the protests if they didn’t immediately stop them.”
The participants at the meeting were made to understand that “those rioters should be crushed,” Reuters reported
And they were. According to Reuters’ sources, within two weeks, 1,500 demonstrators, including 400 women and at least 17 teenagers were killed by regime forces.
In other words, there is no epic struggle between hardliners and moderates in Iran. The leader of the “moderates,” Rouhani is just as responsible for the brutal repression of the protesters as supposed “hardliners.” They were all at the meeting. They all agreed that the protests had to be brutally crushed.
Since Rouhani was first elected to the presidency in 2013, Western leaders have extolled him as the moderate we were all waiting for.
The Obama administration, together with the Europeans insisted that with Rouhani at the helm of Iran, the West could make a nuclear deal that would give the regime a glide path to a nuclear arsenal inside of a decade and $150 billion in sanctions relief.
Even Israel’s security chiefs embraced the dream. In an interview with the Times of London on the eve of his retirement from the Israel Defense Forces last January, then Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Eisenkot repeated the standard talking points.
There is a “power struggle in Iran between the Revolutionary Guards faction, led by [Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem] Soleimani, who is exporting the Islamic Revolution, and the more moderate faction led by President Hassan Rouhani, who wants to invest in the tottering economy rather than wars abroad,” Eisenkot insisted.
As Iran scholar Michael Ledeen wrote in response to Eisenkot’s remarks, the dynamic in Iran doesn’t involve “a power struggle between a radical and moderate faction. It’s a rejection of regime strategy by the bulk of the Iranian people.”
Thanks to the Obama administration’s political, economic and military support for Iran, when President Donald Trump entered office in January 2017, Iran had effectively consolidated its control over an empire that stretched from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Yemen had also become an Iranian colony. With Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw the US from Obama’s nuclear deal and reinstate US sanctions against Iran, the Trump administration began destabilizing Iran, at home and throughout its colonies. The protests, which began in Lebanon and Iraq in October and spread last month to Iran, are rooted in economic privation and dislocation fomented in large part by the US sanctions.
The regime’s brutal repression of last month’s protests – like its repression of the protests in Iraq where its forces and proxies have reportedly killed nearly 500 anti-Iranian demonstrators – show that in lieu of money, the Iranians – fake moderates and hardliners alike – are perfectly willing to rule through the jackboot.
The implication of this bitter, but the obvious truth is that the only goal that should guide Iran’s foes – and first and foremost, Israel and the US – is the goal of overthrowing the regime. That doesn’t mean that Israel or the US needs to send an invasion force into Iran tomorrow. But it does mean that all efforts in relation to Iran should have a component that destabilizes the regime both at home and throughout its empire.
This then brings us to Lebanon. This week, the mask came off in Lebanon twice. Whereas the myth that has guided Western policymaking regarding the regime in Iran has been the existence of a power struggle between moderates and hardliners, the myth relating to Lebanon has been that the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces are moderate actors that are independent and opposed to Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.
Over the past week, this myth has been exposed as a lie twice. First, the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese parliament elected Hezbollah’s candidate, Hassan Diab, to serve as Lebanon’s next prime minister and form its next government. Diab is entirely controlled by Hezbollah. There is no way that a government he leads will act independently of Hezbollah.
Second, following airstrikes against Iranian assets and personnel south of Damascus this week that were attributed to Israel, Khamenei’s top security adviser Ali Akbar Velayati threatened to respond by waging war against Israel from Lebanon.
In his words, “The Zionist entity will regret its actions. We will respond sooner or later with the resistance in Syria and Lebanon. Hezbollah will harm Israel in its territory if it dares to strike in Lebanon.”
In other words, Iran said – and not for the first time – that it controls Lebanon. Through Hezbollah, it can and will attack Israel from Lebanon.
Since the first Iranian war against Israel from Lebanon in 2006, US policy has been to pretend that the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Lebanese government are independent entities that oppose Hezbollah and operate independently of Hezbollah. The fact that Lebanese military forces provided logistical and targeting assistance to Hezbollah forces during the 2006 war made no impression on then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she announced and began implementing a policy of massively funding, arming and training the LAF. The fact that the Lebanese government served throughout the war as Hezbollah’s foreign ministry also made no impression as the US massively expanded its economic assistance to the Lebanese government. Indeed, the US increased its funding of the Lebanese government after Hezbollah won the 2007 elections and began exercising formal control over the Lebanese government following its mini-coup in 2008.
Israel, for its part, recognizes that Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah and also recognizes that the goal of its actions against Iran must play on and exacerbate the destabilization of the regime’s grip on power at home and throughout its colonial possessions.
In a speech on Wednesday, Eisenkot’s successor Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi set out Israel’s plan for fighting Lebanon in the next war with Iran. He made clear that Lebanese infrastructure and urban centers would be targeted because they serve Hezbollah’s war machine.
Israel’s military goal in its operations in Syria has apparently shifted in recent weeks. Until now, the purpose of Israel’s military operations in Syria was to prevent the shipment of advanced, precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah. But now, judging from public statements and the reported attacks on Iranian assets, Israel’s policy in Syria is a combination of aggressive strikes and attrition aimed at turning Syria into Iran’s Vietnam.
Israel’s concept is right. But it may be alone in recognizing the nature of the challenge that Iran poses at home and through its proxies. The Europeans support Iran to all practical purposes. Despite the fact that Iran has now enriched twice the amount of uranium it is permitted to enrich under the nuclear deal, and has opened its heavy water reactor at Arak in material breach of the agreement, the Europeans refuse to restore UN sanctions even though, under the nuclear deal, they were supposed to automatically “snap back” the minute Iran breached the deal.
The Americans for their part are divided. The official position of the Trump administration – restated this week by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at a conference in Doha – is that the US seeks to negotiate a better deal with the regime.
So too, last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered the release of $130 million in economic aid to the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government.
Dennis Ross, an elder statesman of Washington’s fantasy-based foreign policy elite, penned an article in Foreign Policy this week where he recommended that the Democratic Congress budget massive aid to Lebanon to show the Lebanese people that America has their back and Iran doesn’t. For Ross, the fact that Iran controls the Lebanese government that would receive all that money is neither here nor there.
Israel is the only one fighting Iran militarily today. It can manage alone, but only so long as the Americans don’t go wobbly and the Europeans feel pressured to change course on Iran. Along these lines, it is imperative that Israel ensure the Americans and Europeans understand the significance of Rouhani’s involvement in the repression of last month’s protests, Diab’s election, and Velayati’s threat this week to wage war against Israel through Lebanon.
The Iranian regime is unified in its commitment to maintain its control over Iran and its empire. If they consolidate their Obama-era gains and complete their nuclear weapons program, it will be a strategic disaster for Israel and the world as a whole.
Iran must be fought relentlessly on all fronts until its regime is consigned to history.